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front page article by David Lybrand
[Published in Key West Citizen's Solares Hill on July 1, 2012.]
Pickleball: A Fierce Sport for the Laid Back
In Key West it’s not unusual for a story to dribble out in bits and pieces. That’s what happened when somebody saw details of the upcoming Higgs Beach park renovation. They saw that a tennis court was being removed and two pickleball courts were being added. An outcry arose:“We can ‘t trade one of our 6 courts for such foolishness!”
Before we discuss what the pickleball foolishness is all about, let’s clarify the Higgs Beach park plans. The approved site plan for Higgs beach is available on the Monroe County website. It shows how the road is being moved north to provide more beach side space. The new road curvature cuts through the westernmost court space, and the parking lot beside it. (Parking is being added nearby.) Thus that court must be removed. Then, in the small space that’s left, there is room for TWO pickleball courts.
Local pickleball fanatics are enthused that they’ll finally get dedicated courts, after several years of sharing the eastern two tennis courts. Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in North America, this will go far to smooth its growth here. The courts will get good use from locals and visitors alike.
What’s pickleball, you ask? Contrary to urban legend, it was NOT named after a dog (though the originators of the game later got a dog and named it Pickles.) In the mid 1960s, US Representative Joel Pritchard (Washington) was at home on a rainy summer day with his family. They put together a ball game adapted from various court sports (tennis, badminton, ping pong) that the whole family could play. His wife named it after the “pickle boat” (the boat for “leftovers” in college crew racing), forever to diminish the game in the eyes of non-players. Over the winter they refined the game with friends, and soon it spread locally and eventually across America.
The pickleball court is badminton sized, which lets several of them fit inside a gym. (That’s great for northern players in the cold season and helped the sport to grow.) The net is low like tennis, and the paddles are similar to those for racquetball. The unique aspect of the game is the ball, which is a hard wiffle ball. The hardness gives it a good bounce off the paddle and the court. The holes keep the ball from zooming uncontrollably and reduce the speed – keeping the game suitable for the very young and even seniors. Indeed the game is already massively popular in senior communities like The Villages in Ocala and various areas in Arizona.
But don’t think the game itself is slow – you’ll be amazed at the rapid-fire volleys when a game gets going. Even for people that you otherwise wouldn’t picture participating in team sports. It’s fun and addicting and great exercise. The only significant expense is about $50 for a light weight paddle, though a cheap wood one will do for a start (and loners are usually available for newbies). Beyond that, you just show up and play.
There is a national organization – the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) – that governs the sport and organizes tournaments. But 99% of the fun is LOCAL.
Key West has its own resident USAPA “Ambassador”: Colleen Blakley. She’s usually at the Higgs Beach pickleball courts on Saturday and Sunday mornings about 8:30 or so, ready to play – and to coach anyone who needs it. Even complete beginners, so don’t be shy. Other locals try to get there then, too, as do Island visitors who find out about Key West Pickleball from the internet. How about you? See you there!
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